The bombing, which he learned about the following day, prompted Picasso to begin work on the painting that was to soon become his greatest masterpiece of all... Guernica.
The painting became a timely and prophetic vision of the horror of the Second World War. It is nowadays a recognized icon against war, adopted by the UN and the peace movement in general.
Despite the enormous interest the painting generated during his lifetime, Picasso obstinately refused to explain its imagery in any detail. Guernica's interpretation has been the subject of more books than any other painting in the modern era and it is often described as..."the most important work of art of the twentieth century." Yet, to this day, its meanings have, by-and-large, eluded many of the most renowned scholars in both Europe and America.
"The Unknown Masterpiece," despite being a recent discovery, has provided a wealth of new information concerning Picasso's use of symbolism. Its' study has also led to some remarkable discoveries about Guernica... what follows are a few examples.
These images are being shown for the first time. They have never been seen in any prior publication concerning Guernica, or its creator.
Guernica's "Secret" Harlequins
"Experts," generally agree that Picasso practised a form of art-magic. Linked to this were Picasso's depictions of harlequin.
In 1932, another great twentieth century magician, C.G.Jung... recognized Picasso's Harlequin as an underworld god, a master of disguise, associated with the occult. Picasso identified with harlequin whom he associated with Christ due to their common mystical power over death. In Picasso's "secret" Guernica, he has invoked a number of unseen harlequins to overcome the terrible force of death depicted in the painting.
This is the largest Harlequin, cleverly hidden behind the surface imagery.
The outline of his face can be seen in the lines and background shades of the composition. The eyes and a tuft of hair to the right of his face are clearly visible.
The Harlequin appears to be crying a diamond-shaped tear for the victims of the Guernica bombing. The diamond was one of the harlequin's main symbols and in Picasso's work, it can be seen as yet another personal signature.
Painters often rotate and invert paintings to check for balance and stability in their composition.
Picasso learned from this, as well as from his Cubist experiments, that sideways or inverted imagery could impart a powerful subliminal effect up on its viewers, and charge a work with hidden meanings and magical potency.
In relation to this, the next image becomes recognizable as harlequin only when painting is rotated 90 degrees to the right.
From this viewpoint, Harlequin's hat becomes obvious as the he looks upwards at the sky, in reference to the bombing.
Here is another Harlequin image, seen by rotating the painting 90 degrees to the left.
The outlines of the face, hat and mask make him identifiable. Picasso hid many such images in his work, incorporating them sideways or upside down. Sometimes, as in this case, he placed other images directly over the top as camouflage.
This fourth Harlequin is concealed by inversion, a common technique of encryption in Hermetic magic.
The Harlequin is identifiable by his triangular hat and serrated collar. He is constructed of components related to Punch and Judy theatre. His hat is peaked by a crocodile's jaw and his squared mouth and face, if viewed the right way up, take on the form of a traditional puppeteer's theatre.
The Crocodile and the Harlequin are common characters to Punch and Judy puppet shows. Their inclusion in Guernica stems from Picasso's love of puppetry, which began before the turn of the century. In Barcelona, at this time, Picasso saw many such shows and helped produce them with Pere Romeu at his favorite haunt, Els Quatre Ghats . The figure falling across the Harlequin's face, which is often assumed to be a woman. However, it bears a strong visual resemblance to Picasso, who seems to be identifying himself with the victims of the bombing.
The next Harlequin image is also inverted. It can be seen to the right of the previous Harlequin.
He is identifiable from the patchwork costume and triangular hat. He appears to be kneeling as if watching the puppet show taking place.
Guernica's Hidden Images of Death
The preoccupying theme of Guernica is death. Reinforcing this, in the center of the painting, Picasso concealed a human skull to dominate the viewer's subliminal impressions.
The skull is shown sideways, facing right. It has been ingeniously overlaid onto the body of the horse, another of Picasso's death symbols. The mechanical appearance of the skull seems appropriate in reference to the modern weaponry used in the Guernica bombing. Picasso often hid one or more closely related symbols within a particular image as seen here.
Below the dying horse, Picasso has concealed a bull's head. It is an image contained within the outline of the horse's buckled front leg. Its location, directly under the horse's belly, infers that that the bull is plunging its horns into the other animal from below. It relates to the goring of the horse in the bullfight, a favorite theme for Picasso which had strong sexual and at times, political overtones.
The concealed image, like the concealed caricature of Hitler in Guernica (not discussed here) was identified by Mel Becraft, author of "Picasso's Guernica, Images within Images" (1987, 2nd Ed.)
The above findings have come about from studying the imagery in "The Unknown Masterpiece," in relation to Picasso's other work.